Remote control

Remote control

A friend who runs a sizeable SME wanted to take a few weeks off with her family. She deserved it. She asked my advice about whether it was wise. I know her team and they are one of the finest I have come across for a long time. I suggested to her that she put one of them in charge for the duration of her holiday. She said it wasn’t necessary, they all worked well together and no one of them needed to be above the others. She would stay in touch.
On her return she told me that her business was working well and everything had continued smoothly. But she was disappointed that there had been no progress. She wondered why.

Bosses often need to be away from the control centre. In today’s fast communications world it is tempting to say that you can run a business from wherever you are. It is only partly true. The pressure to respond quickly doesn’t change because you are skiing at Innsbruck. Customers can still be lost if they don’t receive what they want quickly. So what is the correct way to run your business wherever you are and whatever you are doing?

First, clear lines of communication – and that includes your web site. Immeasurable amounts of business are being lost because the contact details on the web site don’t work. Worse, the automated switchboard, with its warnings of your being recorded, often fails to offer the one option you need – to speak to a human being. Answerphone systems seem almost wholly incompatible with automaton telephonists. The irritated click that substitutes for a message is the departure signal for a client; it is often not understood.

Second, “Who’s the boss?” Someone on leave of absence is not good enough. ‘Get back to you next week’ won’t do. ‘I’ll ask him when I can reach him’ is simply irresponsible. Someone on site who can deal with 95% of issues is vital to a business expecting to grow. After all, it is growing pains that cause us the most trouble. The other frequent answer – that there are several bosses any one of whom could deal with the issue – is fatal. It usually presages a matrix organisation with its confusing lines of authority. ‘Give me the boss.’

Third, the temporary boss’s job is not just to decide. It is to be the focal and final point for all difficulties whether from within or outside. Endless referrals to others lead to a dead end and the frustration that goes with it. The temporary boss is going to be busy sorting out the problems. S/he cannot do their normal job at the same time. They need a relief as well.

In other words, the absence of the Big Boss must be unnoticed by customers and suppliers if the business is to run smoothly.

Now, I know you are a genius who can manage anything from 12,000 miles away in a 12-hour different time zone and after flying 16 hours non-stop. Fully accepted.

But please have the sense to appoint a temporary boss while you are away.

If you want your business to prosper, that is.